Badge Value

Packaging innovation runneth over in the beer category.

By  Steve Dwyer, CSP Reporter

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For passionate beer drinkers, consuming the brew is no longer the endgame. It’s as much about the brand cachet and packaging ergonomics as the hops and grains inside the vessel.

At least that’s what brewers hope. They’re banking on the “badge value” of their packages, witnessed by innovative, newfangled designs and logo tweaks that add an element of mystique and trendiness to the experience.

For example, MillerCoors’ Coors Light “World’s Most Refreshing Can” offers a smoother pour facilitated by a new double-vented wide mouth. The can also features past innovations such as a frost brew liner, cold-activated mountains and two-stage cold indicators.

The same applies to Heineken’s star bottle: The brand’s first packaging change in almost two decades features an innovative “thumb groove” to make it easier to hold.  Anheuser-Busch InBev’s bow-tieshaped Budweiser aluminum can and its new 25-ounce can for multiple brands speak both to aesthetic value and additional beer volume, respectively.

Corona Extra’s limited-edition boxer bottles target a very specifi c yet important demograpic. Using black shrink-wrap technology, Corona Extra prominently displays images of Hispanic boxers on the bottles. Done to commemorate Hispanic Heritage month in September, as well as support Crown Imports LLC’s role as a Golden Boy Boxing sponsor, these bottles are available only until Oct. 31—further adding to the buzz.  

With the innovation pipeline filling rapidly, retailers are pinpointing packages that best align with market consumption trends. In the company’s 53 Fastrip stores, Fred Faulkner, sales and marketing manager for Bakersfi eld, Calif.-based Jaco Oil Co., says it’s impossible to incorporate all the new versions in the six cooler doors (per-store average) allocated to beer, not to mention warm fl oor displays.

Faulkner singled out Coors Light’s aluminum can as one that has sparked the most interest with customers. A-B InBev’s 25-ounce can, which adds an ounce of fl uid (up from 24 ounces) at no additional cost, is also valued as getting more for less.

“Our customers can’t help but notice the extra 3 ounces when buying a threepack. It’s a package that’s causing a stir,” says Faulkner, adding that beer represents 25% of an average store’s sales volume. “We started in June with Bud Light 25-ounce cans and plan to incorporate the rest of A-B brands that will also be packaged in the 25-ounce can.”

Like many product innovations, the so-called curb appeal of the new looks triggers trial. “When you see those cans on the shelf, it’s a game changer. I think it will force other brewers to create a similar package to compete,” says Faulkner.

Innovation Overkill?

These new designs add excitement to a category that already has its fair share of intriguing logos and set-apart distinctions, much fueled by craft and specialty brews that have been known to captivate beer customers willing to try new offers.

But will new packaging designs have longevity? Are they more form over function, and what can retailers expect in long-term sales? Good questions all, retailers say.

“We feel the majority of new packages are intriguing when they come out, but I am not sure they have staying power,” says Randy Dwyer, category manager of alcohol beverages for La Crosse, Wis.-based Kwik Trip. “One introduction we have seen take hold and stay strong is 16-ounce aluminum pints [from several brewers] with the screw-off cap; it’s been a very strong player for us.”

The innovation explosion might be a case of herd mentality, in that brewers that have not introduced a new package are worried about being left out in the cold. John Alvarado, vice president of brand marketing for Chicago-based Crown Imports, isn’t concerned. While Crown jumped on the new-package bandwagon with limited-edition boxing bottles, that’s about the extent to which his team treads in altering the brand packaging characteristics of Corona, Modelo and other brands.

“If it’s not broken, don’t fix it,” says Alvarado. “We constantly monitor brand health, and while we have seen consumers experiment with new items—perhaps giving trial to an innovative package—we retain a strong and loyal following, and don’t see a need to alter anything.”

Still, a growing number of brewers are stepping up with new package characteristics, formulation changes and logo tweaks to better define brands. Kona Brewing president Mattson Davis wasn’t kidding when he said, “2013 will be the year of innovative packaging for us,” which could have referred to other brewers too.

“As our beer becomes more widely available throughout the U.S. and abroad, these new packaging offerings allow us to introduce more new drinking occasions for the craft beer lover,” Mattson said in a statement released by the company.

Kona rolled out a 24-ounce can in the second quarter, which will position the Hawaiian brewer among only a few domestic brewers offering craft brews in a can this size. The can features Kona’s fl agship Longboard Island Lager and is especially tailored for c-store sales.

Samuel Adams has also joined a number of craft brewers to offer its beer in cans. Because cans are air-tight, opaque and oxygen-free, a growing number of craft brewers are coming to understand the benefits of forgoing bottles. Cans are also often necessary in parks and other recreational spots that prohibit glass bottles.

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